Gary Trent Jr.? Kyle Lowry? Markelle Fultz? Options for the Bucks' final roster spot

NBA teams have been able to negotiate with free agents for nearly two weeks now, yet there are still plenty of open roster spots around the league and several free agents waiting to figure out where they are going to end up next season. As the new collective bargaining agreement has brought about more punitive rules for teams above the salary cap, first apron and second apron, the pace of the free-agency frenzy has slowed.

The Milwaukee Bucks still have an open roster spot on July 10. Let’s reset their situation and take a look at the roster before the Bucks’ youngsters make their way to Las Vegas for NBA Summer League action.

Depth chart

Going into the offseason, the Bucks had a relatively full roster with 10 players under contract. In the 2024 NBA Draft, they added two more players by taking AJ Johnson with the No. 23 pick and Tyler Smith at No. 33 and subsequently signing both players. In free agency, they have signed guard Delon Wright and forward Taurean Prince, which leaves just one open roster spot.

Here is what a projected depth chart looks like at the moment:

Point guard: Damian Lillard, AJ Johnson
Shooting guard: Delon Wright, Pat Connaughton, AJ Green, MarJon Beauchamp
Small forward: Khris Middleton, Taurean Prince, Andre Jackson Jr., Chris Livingston
Power forward: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bobby Portis, Tyler Smith
Center: Brook Lopez

There are clearly going to be some debates within that depth chart.

Can the Bucks find someone else to start at shooting guard with their final signing?

Wright would be a perfectly acceptable option for the Bucks at shooting guard. Their biggest deficiency last season was point-of-attack defense, and that is one of Wright’s greatest strengths. Playing alongside Lillard, Wright could take the opposing team’s best playmaking guard and help the Bucks shore up their greatest weakness, but there will be some question about if he can do enough offensively to make that work. Green may also end up in the conversation, as well as whoever it is they end up signing with their final open roster spot.

How do minutes shake out on the wing?

Middleton’s playmaking, size and versatility give him the ability to slot into any lineup and find success, so he should end up being the leader in minutes and opportunities on the wing. The conversation gets interesting after that. Prince is a big wing, so how often can he play next to Middleton? Can he play in small-ball lineups next to Antetokounmpo? How much opportunity should Connaughton receive? How much opportunity do the returning young guys on the roster receive to start the season? These are all difficult questions that head coach Doc Rivers will have to parse through.

Do the Bucks need another big man?

Since signing Portis before the 2020-21 season, the Bucks have gone about filling their big-man rotation two different ways. In the first two seasons of Portis’ Milwaukee tenure, the Bucks rolled with a three-man rotation of Antetokounmpo, Portis and Lopez. In his first year, that worked out perfectly as all three players stayed healthy, but it came back to bite them in 2021-22 when Lopez went out after the first game of the season and missed more than 60 games. In the last two seasons, Jon Horst has signed a fourth big man and found little use for either of them with Antetokounmpo, Portis and Lopez staying healthy. Smith, 19, is young, but if the Bucks can trust him to step in on the nights their big men miss, they may be able to use the final roster spot in areas that have more pressing needs.

Remaining free agents who make (some) sense

Before the offseason started, the Bucks were projected to be a second-apron team, and they have not made any moves to keep themselves from being that. They are still projected to be a second-apron team, and thus, they only have a veteran minimum contract at their disposal for the last remaining roster spot.

Gary Trent Jr.

Now that we’re more than a week into free agency, it’s tough to know exactly how much the players remaining as free agents will get paid. This is the time when some players take far less than what could be expected before the offseason started to sign for teams they may believe could give them a chance to win a championship or play on a big stage to increase their value for a future contract.

Trent would be one of those players. Last season, Trent, 25, made $18.6 million playing shooting guard for the Toronto Raptors. He averaged 13.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 assists in 28.1 minutes per game and made 39.3 percent from 3 on 6.4 attempts per game. He seems destined to make more than the minimum, but maybe there is a world where he is persuaded to sign a minimum to make his way to Milwaukee to play with Lillard, his former teammate in Portland, and Antetokounmpo.

Lonnie Walker IV

Walker showed up on our initial list of potential free-agent targets for the Bucks, and his name is here once again. His case for being a potential contributor on a minimum contract remains the same as it was 10 days ago.

The 25-year-old shooting guard has shown the ability to be a microwave scorer throughout his six-year NBA career and averaged 9.7 points in 17.4 minutes per game with the Brooklyn Nets last season. He also knocked down 38.4 percent from deep on 4.7 3-point attempts per game. With Wright already signed, the Bucks could focus on something different from better point-of-attack defense and guard size.

They also could pursue more guards who can help at the point of attack, like Josh Okogie or Dennis Smith Jr., who both showed up on the original list as Walker did.

Markelle Fultz

Over the weekend, the Orlando Magic announced they were renouncing the rights to Fultz. That doesn’t necessarily end his relationship with the team, but it limits some of Orlando’s options if it would like to bring him back next season.

After struggling with injuries during the first five seasons of his career, Fultz seemed destined to flame out of the NBA after being drafted first in the 2017 NBA Draft. Then, in 2022-23, he put together the best season of his career as Fultz averaged 14.0 points, 5.7 assists and 3.9 rebounds in 29.6 minutes per game across 60 starts with the Magic. Unfortunately, he appeared in only 40 games this season and averaged just 7.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 21.2 minutes per game.

If the Bucks believe they can help him stay healthy, Fultz may be an interesting option. The 26-year-old guard is not a 3-point shooter, but he can put pressure on the rim on offense and help the Bucks improve at the point of attack on defense. At 6 foot 4 and 209 pounds with a 6-foot-9 wingspan, Fultz could help the Bucks with positional size and give them another tough perimeter defender.

Kyle Lowry

Adding Lowry would not help the Bucks get any bigger or younger, as the 38-year-old point guard stands only 6-feet tall, but there aren’t a lot of six-time All-Stars and NBA champions left on the market. Lowry is battle-tested and has shown the ability to contribute in the biggest moments. The veteran point guard can pester opponents and also defend up the positional scale while also being one of the league’s best help defenders, excelling at taking charges and getting deflections.

Last season, Lowry appeared in 60 games between the Miami Heat and the Philadelphia 76ers and averaged 8.1 points, 4.2 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 28.2 minutes per game. In Miami, he started 35 games at point guard, while he switched over to playing alongside another point guard in Tyrese Maxey in 20 starts for the 76ers. Lowry has shown he can play next to another point guard, which would allow him to help at both backup point guard and potentially play next to Lillard. Over the last 10 years of his career, Lowry has been a 37.6 percent 3-point shooter, and he knocked down 39.2 percent from deep last season.

Gordon Hayward

Things did not go well for Hayward in Oklahoma City last season. After starting 25 of the Charlotte Hornets’ first 28 games last season and averaging 14.5 points, 4.6 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 1.1 steals in 31.9 minutes per game, Hayward suffered a left calf strain that kept him out for over a month and a half until he was traded to the Thunder in February. Hayward never found that same success with the Thunder, and OKC general manager Sam Presti told reporters he “missed” on the Hayward trade following the team’s second-round exit from the playoffs.

It is tough to know whether Hayward’s struggles in Oklahoma City were based on an inability to transition his skill set into a smaller role, one that he will carry with him the rest of his career, or just that particular situation. If the Bucks can get Hayward to agree to a minimum contract, getting an answer to that question might be a worthwhile gamble for a contender with limited options. Hayward still has a 6-foot-7, 225-pound frame, and he has knocked down 37 percent from 3 in his NBA career.

Thanasis Antetokounmpo

The thought process here is pretty simple. Thanasis, Giannis’ older brother, has been on the roster for the last five seasons. He has been a beloved teammate in Milwaukee during that time and a constant source of energy for the team, while also serving as the person who can best help center and calm his younger brother.

It would make sense for the Bucks to roster Thanasis once again, but unfortunately, he suffered a torn Achilles during a workout in early May. Like his younger brother, Thanasis works incredibly hard and will put his all into recovering from the injury, but the timeline on recovering from a torn Achilles is typically around 10 months, which would mean he would miss much of the 2024-25 season.

(Photo of Gary Trent Jr. and Kyle Lowry: Vaughn Ridley / NBAE via Getty Images)

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